Chinese Traditions of Postpartum Care
Postpartum care and traditions vary all over the world and the act of caring for the new mother has been adapted by many cultures. All share similar concepts that include unburdening the new mother by taking over things like cleaning/caring for older children, supplying her with nutritious food to aid in her recovery, and time-honoured traditions to acknowledge her metamorphosis into motherhood. In our modern culture there’s little connection to these traditional ways and new mothers are often influenced by “bounce back” culture, where women are expected to give birth and get right back to the pace of life before baby. Even our short maternity leave support in Australia leaves little room for the new mother to focus solely on recovery and nurturing a new little life. The good news is many new services and ceremonies steeped in tradition are becoming popular. Food services that cater to postpartum recovery and mother honouring ceremonies like Blessingways are becoming more accessible as we wake-up to these old, but relevant traditions.
As a Chinese medicine practitioner, I learned about the “sitting month” called zuo yue zi. The traditional Chinese way of caring for the new mother by cocooning her in her bedroom with baby, feeding her, looking after her household, and supporting her so she can focus solely on resting and attending to her newborn. This went on for 30-40 days (40 for twins usually) and often a pui yuet or “confinement companion” was called to the home to care specifically for the new mother. Confinement seems like a bit of a blunt word, but it’s just the translation. A pui yuet has some training in postnatal care and could be compared to someone like a postpartum doula. They would often live in the home for the month to deliver care, cook, clean, and care for other children. It wasn’t uncommon to have a team of grandmothers, mothers and aunties present to assist as well.
Zuo yue zi dates back 4000 years ago and is part of the Tao or “harmonious way of living” which is part of Chinese philosophy and intended to help you live a long and healthy life. The idea is by adjusting your lifestyle to suit different stages of life you will ensure health long into old age. And in the case of postpartum recovery, the underlying intention was to preserve the mother’s fertility and protect future lineages. Healing and establishing a healthy connection with the newborn baby are all part of the practice as well. The main points of zuo yue zi that still hold up today are as follows:
Eating warm/easy to digest foods
This has to do with the “digestive fire” in TCM. The reason is that during pregnancy a mother’s blood volume nearly doubles and circulates warm blood to help nourish the placenta and grow the baby. After she gives birth, the mother is susceptible to cold now that she is “empty”, so by eating warm/easy to digest foods her digestive fire is protected and she’s able to build blood and optimally receive nourishment from the nutritious foods she’s eating to aid in healing and breastmilk production. There’s a great book called, The First Fort Days by Heng Ou that includes heaps of information about traditional Chinese postpartum diet and lots of yummy recipes. I highly recommend reading it as postpartum prep!
Speaks for itself, but it’s important to distinguish that adequate rest means rest from the normal daily activities of the household (eg. vacuuming, preparing food, school drop off etc). Obviously, she will be waking frequently to attend to baby, especially while she’s establishing her milk supply. The most important part of zuo yue zi is that she can focus on her baby and her own recovery during the first 30-days. This is where a support system is incredibly beneficial, so she can really relinquish all those prior responsibilities and properly disengage.
Having a select few people you feel most comfortable with to support during the delicate postpartum time is so important. Unfortunately, with all the lockdowns in Victoria this has been so difficult for many new mums! In normal times you could hire a postpartum doula, have your mom come by, and/or friends etc. If you’re in an area where care is limited due to lockdowns, carer permits may be available. For any friends or family members of a new mother reading this, send food, chip in on a postpartum food delivery service, send colouring books or movies to help distract older children who may be at home, send a gift basket with all her favourite goodies, send encouraging texts and be there when she needs to talk – anything you can do to lighten her load from afar. If you can visit a new mum and offer support, be sure you’ve been invited and are welcomed into the home. Unwanted visitors or surprise visits are intrusive during this time.
There’s a real lack of acknowledging motherhood as a rite of passage in our society. There are people talking about it and it’s there if you look, but maybe not so accessible to everyone and certainly not common in Australia. It’s been studied in cultures where there is tradition around acknowledging the transformation into motherhood, there is less incidences of postpartum depression and birth trauma. It would be amazing to see what would happen if these types of traditional practices became commonplace in our society! I encourage anyone reading this to do some of their own research into traditions around motherhood as a rite of passage and find something you connect with. For more information on what I’m referring to as a ‘rite of passage’ and traditions around acknowledging the transformation into motherhood, check out Jane Hardwicke Collings and anyone who does Blessingways in your area.
Prepare as much as you can for postpartum times, so you can properly embrace this wonderful and challenging stage of life. I really love the checklist from Heng Ou’s book, The First Forty Days.
- Stock your pantry
- Fill your freezer
- Build your reserves
- Create your “nest”
- Assemble your team
- Fortify your relationship
- Honour yourself
Andrea Murphy works on a Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 2pm to 8pm and a Saturday from 9am-2pm.
138 Tanti Avenue, Mornington, VIC
03 5973 6886